Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will begin easing social distancing restrictions in all but three counties starting Monday.
“We are ready to move ahead in a measured way,” Holcomb said Friday in a statewide address that unveiled his “roadmap” to reopening Indiana.
In a new executive order released Friday that goes into effect Monday and lasts through May 23, retailers—including malls—will be allowed to open at 50% capacity; manufacturers not currently operating will be permitted to do so; offices can have employees return but are encouraged to continue remote work when possible; public libraries can open; and the essential travel restrictions will be lifted.
“Those who work in office settings are encouraged to continue to work remotely whenever possible,” Holcomb said. “In fact, if anyone can work from home, we encourage you to do so.”
Common areas in malls will be restricted to 25% capacity to avoid large gatherings of people.
Social gatherings of up to 25 people will also be allowed—up from the previous 10-person limitation.
Holcomb’s current stay-at-home order, which allowed elective medical procedures to resume but maintained all of the other restrictions, is set to expire at midnight. The directives from that order will remain in effect until the new guidelines are in place on Monday. The state has been under a stay-at-home directive since March 25.
All of the new guidelines are part of “Stage 2” of Holcomb’s five-part plan to completely reopen the state by July 4.
But Holcomb’s guidance allows local municipalities to have stricter policies in place, so the new measures will not apply to Marion County, which is under a stay-home-order issued by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett until May 15.
The executive order says Marion and Lake counties, which have the highest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases statewide, may move to Stage 2 on May 11, but local governments may impose more restrictive guidelines. Cass County, where an outbreak at the Tyson plant has caused a spike in positive cases, will not be in Stage 2 until May 18.
“We looked at where the cases were and looked at the spread,” Holcomb said. “You’re never going to get this perfect.”
Stage 2 also encourages, but does not require, all Hoosiers to wear face masks in public and urges those who are 65 and older or have underlying health conditions to remain at home whenever possible.
Employees in some industries, such as personal care services and restaurants, will be required to wear masks, though.
The one change that will apply statewide affects churches and religious places of worship, which are allowed to resume in-person services on May 8. The 25-person social gathering restriction will not apply to those places, but the administration is suggesting social distancing and health safety practices, like hand-washing and using hand sanitizer, be practiced.
After a county has been in Stage 2 for one week, starting May 11 for most of the state, personal services businesses such as hair salons and barber shops can open by appointment only, and restaurants and bars serving food can open at 50% capacity.
Bars and nightclubs, however, are expected to remain closed until June 14, when Stage 4 begins.
Visits to nursing homes will continue to be prohibited during this stage.
Gyms and fitness centers, casinos, sports venues, museums, zoos, movie theaters, parks and community swimming pools will also remain closed.
Holcomb admitted the executive order may be difficult to enforce, but state officials will follow up on complaints and keep its Enforcement Response Team in place to investigate complaints of businesses not complying. As of Thursday, state officials had investigated 1,264 complaints and issued 115 verbal warnings.
“There is no state in America that has enough law enforcement, both state and local, to go chase down every rumor,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb’s administration considered four main criteria before drafting the executive order—the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide (which has been trending downward); the number of intensive care unit hospital beds and ventilators available; the state’s ability to test individuals with symptoms and essential workers; and having a contract tracing plan in place.
Earlier this week, the state announced a partnership with OptumServe to open 50 new testing sites by mid-May, and the state is working with Virginia-based Maximus Inc. to open a 500-person call center to conduct contract tracing.
State officials are expecting an increase in the number of positive cases as restrictions are eased, so they will continue to monitor hospital capacity. Assuming the state continues to have enough ICU beds and ventilators available and testing and contract tracing goes well, Stage 3 would begin May 24 and could apply statewide.
In that phase, gyms and fitness centers and playgrounds could open, movie theaters could operate at 50% capacity, retail stores and malls could increase to 75% capacity and social gatherings of up to 100 people would be allowed.
Stage 4 would begin June 14 and could include allowing malls and retailers to have full capacity, increasing restaurant capacity to 75%, letting bars and nightclubs open with 50% capacity, opening zoos and museums at 50% capacity and allowing large venues to open.
At that point, social gatherings could increase to a maximum of 250 people.
Stage 5 would begin July 4 and would essentially lift all remaining restrictions, which would mean sporting events, conventions, festivals and fairs could all occur.
It’s uncertain when riverboat casinos and horse-track racing casinos could open. The administration is working with the Indiana Gaming Commission and Indiana Horse Racing Commission to determine those dates.
Holcomb said all of the stages are “subject to change.”
“All or portions of the state may need to pause or return to an earlier stage,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb will extend the public health emergency order that is set to expire May 4.
The state also revealed plans on Friday to open a marketplace to help facilitate personal protective equipment purchases for small businesses and not-for-profits with fewer than 150 employees.